Eleven post-secondary students, who tested positive for COVID-19, have been hospitalised as a precaution after one was found to have the Brazil variant of the virus. 

Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said authorities took the step of treating them in hospital "not because of symptoms but to isolate them completely".

Gauci said the cases were found in a university complex but did not say whether it was the University of Malta or the AUM.

"These were foreign students, who live in a cluster," Gauci explained. "The cluster is a University complex. This is how we handle containment, especially with such clusters," she said. 

The students were all taking part in online lessons, so were not mixing with other students, making the outbreak easier to contain, Gauci said.

Only one has been confirmed to have the Brazil variant, also known as P.1, which some tests have shown may spread more easily and may affect the body's antibody response. 

Overall, the majority of cases in Malta - 67% - are of the highly-transmissible UK variant. Of the other so-called variants of concern, Malta has five cases of the Brazil variant and five of the South African strain. 

Gauci said some of the Brazil variant cases are "linked to travel" but that there has also been local transmission. 

Her update comes as the island recorded zero deaths for the fifth day in a row on Friday and 16 new cases.

This student cluster saw an overall increase in cases among the 15-19 age group, while the average age of a COVID-19 patient stands at 41 years old.

Watch the update here.

Where is COVID-19 spreading?

The numbers of COVID-19 cases are low, Gauci said, with the seven-day moving average standing at 23 cases. The positivity rate is at a "very good" 1.3 per cent. 

Of the 331 people currently positive for the virus, 54 are being treated in hospital with eight patients in intensive care. 

"Fewer people are being admitted to hospital, Gauci said

The majority of all active cases are in Malta, with 21 cases in Gozo. 

This week:

  • 26 cases were 'imported', meaning they were arrivals to the island who tested positive for the virus;
  • There were 26 cases linked to households;
  • 19 to the workplace;
  • 10 in 'institutions';
  • Seven from social gatherings;
  • One in education, following the reopening of schools last month.

She said there were no clusters at schools. No cases were found in childcare. While there were three sporadic cases of students and four educators who tested positive, they were not linked to school.

The cluster of 11 post-secondary students was not classified as being linked to education as they were all being taught online. 

What is the approach to lifting measures?

Gauci reiterated the importance of wearing face masks, which remain mandatory, including on the beach, where it should only be removed for swimming. 

She acknowledged that, while people were experiencing 'COVID fatigue', the public needs to "remember that we are in a pandemic". 

Defending the relaxation of measures, she said restaurants were only allowed to open until 5pm because they are a 'high risk' category and earlier closing times means the impact on the spread would be lessened.

"Gyms and bars also carry a bit more risk, so as the situation continues to improve, we will see when these places can reopen," she added. 

All people aged over 40 are currently being invited for the vaccine, with 42 per cent of that cohort receiving at least one jab. Some 94 per cent of the over 60s have received a vaccine while 67 per cent of the over 50s have been given a dose.

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